CNN NEWSROOM – Transcripts
But up next, an Internet blackout, a crucial fight right under way now in Syria. I will speak live with someone who just returned from there and he says today’s developments could signal the endgame for Bashar al-Assad.
LEMON: In Syria, Damascus International Airport has shut down. Fierce fighting has closed the main road to the airport. Flights in and out canceled. These clashes happening as the country’s Internet goes dark.
Syria now experiencing an unprecedented nationwide blackout, as this a Syrian military jet and two helicopters were shot down by rebels. They used surface-to-air missiles which were seized when rebels captured a key army base last week.
I want to bring in Mohammed Ghanem. He’s a strategist for the Syrian- American Council.
Mohammed, you just got back from Syria, where you met with the Free Syrian Army.
MOHAMMED GHANEM, SYRIAN-AMERICAN COUNCIL: Correct.
LEMON: You say we’re nearing an endgame. Why is that? GHANEM: The FSA, that’s the main armed opposition in Syria, is closing in on Assad, closing in on the capital and they’re tightening the noose around Assad’s neck.
So this is a map. And this map was provided by the Assad regime, by the way. The areas in red as you can see are under the control of the Free Syrian Army. The areas in blue are contested and the areas in green are under the control of Assad. As you can see, the areas under Assad are shrinking and the FSA, that’s the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition, is constantly gaining ground and Assad is extremely alarmed by that.
And that’s why the Internet was shut down today. I touched base with some activists in Damascus this morning and they were concerned that the Assad regime might be readying itself to take major action to keep the FSA at bay. They said it’s not that Assad would not commit massacres in broad daylight. In fact, that’s what Assad has been doing for the 20 months, but that they’re worried about larger-scale action.
LEMON: OK. So, Mohammed, let me get in here, OK, and ask you this, because here’s what you write. I’m going to quote you here. You said: “The United States’ commitment to aiding the Syrian opposition against a brutal Assad regime has been one of words and few deeds.”
So, you’re calling for the U.S. to do more. What do you make of the suggestion that the U.S. should provide arms to these opposition fighters?
GHANEM: In fact, like — we have always called on the United States of America to help the Free Syrian Army, to help the moderates in Syria with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons so that they can fend off Assad’s aerial attacks, because the daily death toll in Syria has climbed past 200.
But, however, now there are other thing that is the U.S. is not doing that our European partners are doing. So, for example, the British and the French recognized the national coalition that formed in Doha, the National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. And there is already an embassy in France and an ambassador in London.
What the U.S. needs to do is to recognize the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and to funnel the support that the U.S. has already given through the National Coalition. What is happening, when I was in Syria, 65 percent of the country is not under the control of Assad.
In those areas that have been liberated, people are coming together, they’re forming local administrative councils, providing basic assistance, goods and services, trying to enhance the rule of law in their localities, but they are severely underfunded. What needs to happen is for the U.S. instead of going through third-party organizations such as the World Food Program and Save the Children, that aid needs to go directly through the councils in Syria.
LEMON: OK, Mohammed, real quickly here, what do you make of the unprecedented Internet blackout?
GHANEM: As I told you, the activists in Syria said they’re concerned that Assad might — the Assad regime might be readying itself to commit larger massacres at a large scale to keep the FSA that’s closing in on the capital and making advances, as I showed you on the map, at bay.
LEMON: And by shutting down the Internet, they’re doing it so the other side can’t make any plans or…
GHANEM: Get the word out about the atrocities that will be taking place, yes.
LEMON: Thank you, Mohammed Ghanem. We appreciate it.
GHANEM: Thank you.